With just a few days left before Ukraine’s July 21st parliamentary elections, the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation (USUF) hosted a discussion titled New Faces in Parliament: Challenges and Opportunities. The guest speakers were Kateryna Smagliy of the McCain Institute for International Leadership and Serhii Nosenko, a Ukrainian investment banker and independent candidate running in single-mandate constituency #223 in Kyiv.
In her opening remarks, Nadia K. McConnell, President of USUF, noted that as we approach these historic elections this week also marks the tragic 5th anniversary of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukrainian territory by a Russian missile and the happy 29th anniversary of Ukraine’s Declaration of Sovereignty.
Joining the conversation by Skype from Kyiv, Serhii Nosenko said that he sees this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections as the start of a process of renewal in Ukraine. He noted that the main characteristics of the current campaign are that it is very short and that voters in his district are becoming a bit less enthusiastic about recently-elected President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his team. Zelenskyy won the election with an overwhelming 73% of the vote.
In her presentation, Kateryna Smagliy seemed most hopeful about the role that Ukrainian rock star Sviatoslav Vakarchuk’s Holos (Voice) party might play in the future parliament, assuming that they can obtain at least five percent of the vote, the minimum that is needed to qualify to be in the next Verkhovna Rada. Vakarchuk and the reformers in his party present a real challenge to the system and to the oligarchs, she said.
Dr. Smagliy gave an overview of the people surrounding Zelenskyy (many from the TV entertainment world) and the lack of political experience of a huge proportion of candidates running on his Servant of the People party list. She also noted the strength of Viktor Medvedchuk ‘s pro-Russian Opposition Platform – For Life which she attributed to favorable coverage from TV channels he effectively controls. She cited a number of examples of candidates with ties to Medvedchuk, wihich are running on the lists of other parties.
Summing up the 2019 election cycle in Ukraine, Kateryna Smagliy said she is concerned that Ukrainian politics is turning into show business and that many candidates are not addressing the major issues facing the country with serious policy proposals based on professionalism and experience — the priority for the electorate seems to be selecting new faces in the fight against corruption.
Photo at top of page: Kateryna Smagliy (left) and Nadia K. McConnell at USUF.
Video highlights from New Faces in Parliament: Challenges and Opportunities at USUF (in two parts):